The truth about dyslexia

Imagine being in a system which didn’t “get you”. That’s what it was like for Julie whose twins are profoundly dyslexic – and so many other parents whose children are dyslexic. That’s the truth about dyslexia. Something which affects 10% of the population, 4% severely.

Their educational journey was incredibly challenging and despite her very best efforts, she emotionally lost her children because they were not better supported at school. She looked on heart-broken to see them become shadows of their former selves.

Meanwhile, supporting her children and tackling their education became an all-consuming and a constant concern, culminating in an Educational Tribunal. With the support of an amazing Educational Psychologist, her children concluded their education in the right school for them and she went on to create Juunipa Tutors, providing hand-selected pupil matched tutors for all key stages and attainment including levels across a diverse range of subjects and a specialist team of tutors for children with ASD, Dyslexia and dyscalculia.

I interviewed her to find out about the truth about dyslexia and here’s what she had to say:

Could help us understand a little more about dyslexia, what causes it?

Dyslexia is a neurological disorder, where the brain is fundamentally wired a little differently. Non-impaired brains use three different areas for word form integration, analysis and articulation, compared to a dyslexic brain that uses just the one area.  

I’m guessing it may be a little more than just reversing some letters, d and b for example?

The spectrum is huge, and no two dyslexics are the same. Dyslexia falls into four main categories: input, integration, memory and output. Many dyslexics will struggle with poor handwriting, spelling, sound identification and memory in varying forms

Some children with mild dyslexia will struggle with mixing up d and b and perhaps some additional reversal of letters but for the most part, it is a lot more complex.

A high percentage of students with dyslexia have a reduced Working Memory, meaning that they operate with 50% less capacity of immediate memory.

For example, to spell the word STOP. Early learners will be taught to sound out each letter individually S T O P which equates to 4 letter sounds. Students with a regular working memory can remember between 5 – 7  pieces of information, therefore remembering 4 is within capacity.

As a dyslexic operating with 50% reduced capacity students will often only be able to remember 2 to 3 pieces of information. Using STOP as an example, by the time a dyslexic student arrives at O the 3rd letter they have forgotten what word they were trying to spell.

The issue compounds when you incorporate multiple words, a noisy classroom, often poor handwriting and processing issues all whilst trying to digest the lesson. For profoundly dyslexic children a traditional classroom structure with a teacher at the front of the class and students taking notes, is an impossible situation.

Traditional learning can be immensely challenging.

So in your example above, how would you teach a dyslexic student to spell STOP?

Good question. The answer is chunking. Rather than breaking down the word into individual letters, the letters should be grouped together into sounds or chunks: ST and OP therefore within the 2 – 3 pieces of working memory capacity.

Are they any simple changes that could be made to make learning more accessible?

Absolutely! Small adjustments to teaching would greatly help dyslexic students access the curriculum for example:

  • Providing students with bullet point printed notes to replace handwritten notes and homework assignments
  • Mind mapping which can condense 25 pages of notes into a one page visual
  • Learning to Touch Type. Once fully mastered, draws on muscle memory and completely bypasses Working Memory, allowing students to focus on the actual learning
  • Multi-sensory learning; role play, building, drawing etc
  • Moving students closer to the educator
  • Scribe or reader to ensure that students aren’t hindered by their often-restricted reading and writing
  • Single step instructions, delivered one at a time

Is there a correlation between a lower IQ and dyslexia

Not at all, in fact dyslexics have average and above IQ, which is highlighted by its SpLD category. SpLd stands for Specific Learning Difficulty and refers to the difference or difficulty with particular aspects of learning. Dyspraxia, dyscalculia, ADHD and ASD are also Specific learning Difficulties. Dyslexics usually have high word, topic or activity comprehension combined with reading and writing skills that do not reflect their IQ.

As a parent are there any early signs that may indicate their child has dyslexia?

Yes there are many and some more subtle than others. Dyslexia is very much a case of one size does not fit all, therefore, children may show aspects of all or some in differing degrees.

Warning signs can include delayed speech, sensitive eyes, slow to learn the alphabet or days of the week/months of year, trouble trying shoelaces, extreme tiredness when reading and writing, not recognizing the same word, reluctance to read or write, poor or small handwriting and low self-esteem and confidence

You’ve mentioned weak spelling several times are there any key indicators?

Sound interpretation plays an important part in spelling which can be difficult for dyslexics, for example “ed” at the end of words can be transposed to “t”, therefore ‘marked’ becomes ‘markt’. Other tricky words are ‘chicken’ which is frequently spelt as ‘ckin’,  ‘pretty’ as ‘prity’ and ‘school’ as ‘skol’

In addition, students will often add letters to the end of words, for example ‘with’ becomes ‘withe’ and in some cases the correct letters are used but in the wrong order, therefore ‘the’ is often spelt ‘hte’

I should add that dyscalculia is the maths equivalent of dyslexia; children will struggle with reversal of numbers and understand the meaning of add, less than, more than etc

If parents are concerned what should they do?

People don’t grow out of dyslexia and nor can it be cured but they can learn strategies to help overcome the challenges. Therefore, early identification is important. The earlier children learn the strategies, the more success they will have accessing the curriculum.

In fact, an American dyslexia screening establishment concluded that 90% of children with reading difficulties will achieve appropriate age level in reading if they receive help by age 6 – 7 years whilst 75% of children whose help is delayed to age 9 or later often continue to struggle throughout their school career.

I would strongly recommend that parents become very well informed. It can be heart-breaking, but acknowledgement is key in order to secure action and support for your child. The British Dyslexia Association is a great starting point.

Juunipa Tutors and Helen Arkell Centre amongst others run dyslexia aware workshops to help parents better understand dyslexia and learn strategies to help their children.

At around 6 – 7 years children can be tested by an Educational Psychologist to determine if they are dyslexic. Assessments can be privately funded or via the Local Authority in conjunction with the school, usually ending in an Educational Healthcare Plan (EHCP)

Parents should speak with their child to understand what they find difficult and if there are any immediate changes that could be implemented to make learning easier for them.

As I mentioned earlier, as each dyslexic is different, your child’s input and parental support is critical for their education and emotional wellbeing.

In summary, parents should discuss their concerns with the school, become informed and act quickly. The sooner changes are put into place the better the capacity for learning.  

Is specific support available at schools

Some schools and teachers are better placed for children with learning difficulties, proactively providing additional support and a revised curriculum.

However, in many cases parents may need to be forthright, vocal and push for support; often in the form of a teaching assistant to help translate a lesson, specialist 1:1 support, additional time for exams or indeed a specialist school. For parents, the journey can be long and arduous.

There are many determining factors and as a dyslexic child gets older, instead of looking at School Exam performance tables parents may have to look at SEN provisions, class sizes and support for children with SpLD.

Isn’t Jamie Olivier dyslexic?

He is and will be the first to admit that he scribed each of his cookery books, 27 I believe at last count.

A high percentage of entrepreneurs are dyslexic, they rely on their non-academic skills to succeed, often excelling in problem-solving, interpersonal skills and creativity.

That’s great so it’s not all about the challenges?

Not at all, dyslexics are renowned for being great at problem-solving, lateral thinking and very creative. Multisensory learning works for dyslexics as they think in pictures, in fact, a high percentage of architects are dyslexic. The Gerkin in London is a prime example of a somewhat unique and creative view on design!

The key is to learn the strategies and embrace the strengths. School may be extremely challenging and hard work, but it must not define the future.

American Banker Charles Schwab is dyslexic and attributes his dyslexia to his phenomenal success. When starting out he acknowledged that his dyslexia wouldn’t allow him to be sufficiently expert in all required fields, so he surrounded himself with a team of experts.  He directly attributes this format to his success, allowing him to focus on his strengths;  big thinking, creativity and problem-solving.

There are so many charming stories and anecdotes from parents of dyslexic children, that are equally heart-breaking and heart-warming. However, inability to spell tops the list; birthday cards wishing siblings Happy Bitchday, Christmas pantos with a child dressed as Elvis instead of an Elve and I wouldn’t recommend playing hangman with a dyslexic child if you have any desire to win. My son thrashed me at hangman when I couldn’t guess” cough” spelt “koff”

Where can we go to find out more information on Juunipa Tutors?

More details can be found at www.juunipatutors.co.uk, @juunipa or info@juunipa.co.uk

Have you found this because your child is dyslexic? Perhaps you have your own experiences of dyslexia you would to add? Do share in a comment below.

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